Figures have indicated that more time spent at home puts women and children at an increased risk from abusive partners.
As self-isolation and social distancing become the new norm for families across Ireland, domestic abuse charity Aoibhneas is concerned about the impact that the pandemic is having on some of the most vulnerable in society.
Acting as a frontline support service over the last number of weeks, Aoibhneas has experienced a notable rise in demand for helpline support and emergency accommodation.
This follows a statement from former family law solicitor and Green Party councillor Pauline O'Reilly who said that she has genuine fears that domestic violence could be set to soar in Ireland.
"No one should be forced to live with perpetrators of abuse", the Councillor for Galway City West says.
"Women, men, and children can be assured that courts are still sitting for these incidents and that emergency services continue to be available to them."
While the organisation is maintaining continuity of service and also following strict guidelines from the Department of Health and the HSE in relation to COVID-19, due to current restrictions, the service is unable to operate at full capacity.
This is something that a number of other services are also currently experiencing, at a time when cases of domestic abuse are on the rise.
Undersupply of crisis accommodation for those affected by domestic abuse is already well documented. The COVID-19 pandemic will invariably see undersupply worsen and women and children put at increased risk.
The organisation is calling on the Government to ensure that throughout this crisis, women and children experiencing domestic abuse are protected. More specifically, Aoibhneas is calling for a coordinated effort among services, funders and relevant government departments to ensure services can maintain operations to best serve families in their time of need.
The new Domestic Violence Act – which was updated and came into force on 2 January 2019 – set out a number of notable improvements to increase protection for victims under both civil and criminal law.
One such improvement is that the law will now help to protect victims against psychological and emotional abuse.
Also known as coercive control and/or gaslighting, this sort of abuse centres on psychological manipulation and abuse that can cause extreme distress or fear or violence.
Ireland is the third country in the world to make it an offence, following England and, more recently, Scotland.
“This has been a very difficult few weeks across the service as we dealt with our first case of self-isolation in the refuge," Emma Reidy, CEO of Aoibhneas commented.
"While self-isolation was purely a precautionary measure, it demonstrated the lack of support available to a service like ours at this trying time, as we look to provide a continuity of service for women and children while also ensuring the safety of our staff and service users.
"As a frontline service provider, we are already seeing and responding to the impact of curtailed service provision to women and children experiencing domestic abuse. We are doing our best to ensure we abide by all relevant guidelines and understand our role in combatting COVID-19 but women and children’s safety in their homes must also continue to be a priority," she continued.
"We are calling on the Government to increase support to the sector as we strive to protect women and children."
Established originally as a refuge in Dublin in 1988, Aoibhneas works in response to the needs of women and children suffering domestic violence in their home. The organisation offers crisis accommodation, a 24-hour helpline, community outreach service and a court accompaniment service.